A Guide to Growing Orchids in
Your Home or Garden

By Andrea Pisani Babich

Orchids are the largest family of plants on earth—comprising 25,000–30,000 different species—and feature extreme variations in size, shape, and color in both blooms and foliage.

Orchids live on every continent on earth except Antarctica and thrive in a variety of environments, including underground, on rocks, in soil, and on other plants. With so many varieties and preferred habitats, you should be able to grow orchids no matter where you live.

Some orchids (not terrestrial orchids) are actually epiphytes, which means that they grow on the surface of other plants and derive moisture from the air, which is why these flowers thrive in humidity. This also means that you won’t plant them in a typical bed of soil.

“Since they do not rely on soil, they also feed slightly different than a typical plant,” according to the experts at Gardening Know How.

Let’s take a look at feeding and care of orchids, broken down by type.

Feeding orchids

All orchids will last longer, grow larger, and bloom more abundantly if they are well fed. The rule of thumb for fertilizing orchids is weakly, weekly. That is, water weakly, once weekly. Simply dissolve a small amount of fertilizer in water then water the plant normally. If your orchids begin to wilt, you may be fertilizing too much. Move the orchids to a brighter area and dilute the fertilizer more, but be careful not to overwater your orchids.

Gardening Know How gives their take on how to properly care for orchids:  

Most orchids are photoperiodic, and require a change in duration of light to set flower. Usually, these will require an increase in the duration of dark hours that exceeds 12 hours in order to set flowers correctly. Most orchids will require high humidity and bright, indirect light in order to grow properly.”

Many types of orchids require just a little specialized attention, but it’s important to know the particular needs of the type you have. A little bit of orchid know-how can keep these exotic beauties healthy and delightful in your home and garden.

Types of orchids and how to care for them

Moth orchid

Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis), also known as phals, are the variety commonly found in the floral section of your local grocery store—these are the best orchids for beginners. Moth orchids are distinguished by their broad, flat petals and flat, leathery, dark green leaves arranged in opposing pairs. Moth orchids are easy to grow and reward minimal effort with stunning flowers that can last from winter into spring.

Caring for moth orchids

The key to growing any type of orchid successfully is to replicate their natural habitat. Phalaenopsis orchids are native to the tropical forests of East Asia, where they thrive in partial sunlight and warm, moist conditions. If you live in a region where conditions are usually warm and humid, you can grow phals outdoors.

Like other epiphytes, moth orchids grow clinging to tree branches with their roots exposed. Do not plant them in soil. Phalaenopsis do well indoors planted in bark, lava rock, or tree fern away from direct sunlight. Keep conditions moist by placing the pot on a tray of gravel and water.

Water sparingly to prevent waterlogging. The seasonal shift to cooler temperatures triggers flower spikes to grow, so some growers place their orchids outdoors for a few nights to initiate the flowering process.

Cattleya orchid

Cattleya orchids (Cattleya) appear regularly in traditional corsages because of their large, colorful, and fragrant flowers. You can recognize cattleya orchids by their pseudobulbs or stems from which one (unifoliate) or two (bifoliate) leaves grow under a spray of flowers. They are easy to grow indoors and most species bloom for one to three weeks in the spring or fall.

Caring for cattleyas

Cattleyas grow well indoors with ample (but not direct) sunlight in a bed of loose, well-draining bark. Allow them to dry out between waterings since they store water in their pseudobulbs and, like most orchids, can die from waterlogged roots. Some species need a brief dry rest after flowering, so you can water a bit less for a few months.

Vanda orchid

Vanda (Vanda) orchids, also known as Singapore orchids, are native to hot, humid Southeast Asia. These orchids produce large showy flowers in a wide variety of colors. Vandas make delightful additions to your home or garden because their impressive blooms last from four to six weeks and can occur two to three times a year.

Vandas are divided into two types depending on the shape of their leaves. Most vandas have straplike leaves that form a v-shape where they join the stem. Others have leaves that are tubular called terete leaves and will flower only outdoors in full sun.

Caring for vandas

All vandas need plenty of bright light, high temperatures—between 70℉ and 95℉—as well as humidity of about 70%. They grow well in baskets with little or no root exposure. Grown this way, vandas require daily watering to keep roots moist but not saturated.

Dancing lady orchid

You can recognize dancing lady (Oncidium) orchids by their abundant sprays of small- to medium-size blooms that grow on branched stems. Their common name —dancing lady orchids—comes from the wide, skirt-like shape of their distinct flowers. Blooms are often yellow with brown markings. If all goes well, you could have dancing ladies for several months of the year. They can bloom from six to eight weeks once or twice a year from the winter into the spring.

Caring for dancing lady orchids

Oncidium orchids prefer cooler temperatures than some of the other orchids—around 60℉–75℉ during the day and down to 50℉ at night. They too are epiphytes, so their roots should be exposed, loosely supported by well-draining bark, or in a mesh basket.

Water them lightly as the medium or roots begin to feel dry. Place them in a location that gets lots of light, especially if your species has dark green leaves. Oncidium orchids with reddish leaves can survive with less light.

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